A victory for commonsense

It’s fitting that on the eve of the Global Seafood Expo in Brussels, by far the biggest international coming together of the seafood industry, we can confidently draw a line under one of European seafood’s longest running, most bitter disputes — the so-called “mackerel war” in the Northeast Atlantic (NEA).

Iceland’s newly-set mackerel quota of 147,574 metric tons (MT), while unilateral, falls well within the scope of the five-year agreement on catch shares that was recently agreed by the three other main NEA coast states — the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands — after almost five years of failed management negotiations.

The country’s quota has been met with widespread approval from the pelagic sector. In fact, Iceland could probably have announced a much higher quota without coming under fire from the other coastal states. This is because when the trilateral deal was announced an unallocated amount was set aside for the country, believed to be 15.6 percent of the total allowable catch (TAC). If the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) does indeed recommend that the NEA mackerel TAC can be ramped up to 1.2 million MT, as widely expected, then this share would have equated to 187,200 MT.

ICES decision on the 2014 TAC revision is due imminently (9 May), and if it is set at that level then the deal gives the EU a 611,000 MT quota, Norway 279,000 MT and the Faroes 156,000 MT.

Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, Iceland’s Minster of Fisheries and Agriculture, said his country’s modest new mackerel quota “supports Iceland's efforts to preserve the mackerel stock, which should be the long term management goal.”

]While the overall NEA catch can be regarded as being back at a sustainable level once more, which is good news for environmentally-savvy consumers and should eventually see a reinstatement of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification as well as an improved ranking on the fish’s Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) Fish to Eat list, the industry as a whole will be preparing itself for a drop in market prices.

Last year, ICES set the NEA mackerel TAC at 542,000 MT, while this figure was of course greatly exceeded, this year’s landings could easily double that figure. Naturally, the vastly increased supply will exert even more pressure on prices — it’s just a question of how much and whether the return of its sustainable billing will add any financial value to the products.

Last year, Iceland’s mackerel exports totaled ISK 19 billion (USD 169.9 million, EUR 122.5 million), based on its unilateral quota of 123,000 MT.

The country’s pelagic producers will no doubt be hoping their restrained quota doesn’t result in a lower value.

Conquering new markets will become even more of a priority for these companies and the broader pelagic sector in 2014 and beyond.


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